Preparing for Flu Season – Protect Your Home
Seasonal influenza viruses can be detected year-round in the US, but they are most common during the fall and winter. Obviously you should take care in public to prevent contracting the virus, but you should also be aware of some of the most germy spots in your own home as well.
Influenza – better known as the flu – is a contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus. It infects the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms include fever (not everyone gets a fever), cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches and fatigue. Per the CDC, influenza activity begins to increase in the month of October and peaks between December and March.
The best way to keep yourself protected is by getting a flu vaccine each year, especially if you fall into a high risk category, such as young children or persons with weakened immune systems. Flu virus is mainly spread by droplets made when people cough, sneeze or talk. However, the bug can also be transmitted by touching a surface or object that flu virus has landed upon and then touching the mouth, eyes or nose.
“Viruses can survive much much shorter periods of time on a porous surface,” says Dr. Natalie Azar, NBC medical contributor. But they can linger up to 24 hours on hard surfaces, such as counters, tables, computer keyboards, and remote controls.
In public, the best way to prevent flu is by keeping clear of people that are obviously sick and by frequently washing your hands. But have you thought about your own home? Do you know where the most germy places in your home are located? Some may surprise you.
In the Kitchen:
1. Kitchen sponges and dishcloths – because these are often damp, they are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Wash these often in hot water. You can also zap it in the microwave for one to two minutes or run it through the dishwasher!
2. Countertops – If your kids are frequently in the kitchen grabbing snacks, you will definitely want to be sure that the surfaces they touch are frequently cleaned with hot soapy water. This will help physically remove germs, but don’t stop there. Remember to also disinfect and sanitize.
3. Coffee Makers – how often do you clean yours? Most manufacturers suggest cleaning thoroughly every 40 to 80 brew cycles as bacteria can thrive in the damp water reservoirs.
4. Appliance and Cabinet Handles – don’t forget these when cleaning the counter top, especially if they have a lot of “nooks and crannies” where germs can hide.
In the Bathroom:
1. Toothbrushes: Flu, staph, strep, e-coli, and yeast commonly live on toothbrushes, says Dr. Heather Rosen, medical director of UPMC North Huntington Urgent Care. Clean and disinfect your toothbrush by placing in boiling water for a couple of minutes or soaking in an antibacterial mouthwash. Do not let family members share toothbrushes, and if anyone does get sick, it is recommended to replace their toothbrush as soon as possible – not because you could be re-infected with the same virus (you develop antibodies to that particular strain), but at any given time there are about 200 different strains circulating.
2. Toothbrush holders: Remember also to frequently wash your toothbrush holders (run them through a dishwashing cycle once or twice a week or wash with hot soapy water.) Dentists also recommend using disposable paper rinse cups instead of a glass in your bathroom which can build up with germs.
3. Change the hand towels frequently – it harbors bacteria, again, because it is likely frequently damp. Change these out at least weekly, or more often if anyone in your family is sick.
4. Remember to also replace any shared soaps or other products, such as makeup.
5. Countertops and Handles – clean and disinfect countertops, sink basins and faucets, and toilet handles. Don’t forget the door knob too!